What Are Leeks

Let me start by saying that leeks (along with shallots) happen to be one of my very favorite parts of the gorgeous world of onions. So I am truly happy to be spreading the leek gospel. Once you start cooking with this vegetable, you will always want to have them in your fridge.


All About Leeks

What Are Leeks?

Leeks are a member of the Allium family, which is essentially the onion family, and can really be used in any way that you would use an onion….which as you surely know is lots and lots of ways.

 

What Do Leeks Look Like?

What Do Leeks Look Like?

They look like oversized scallions or green onions, long and cylindrical. The bulbs are white, and then fairly quickly the white goes to light green, then very dark green at the tops.

 

What Do Leeks Taste Like?

Leeks taste amazing, in this person’s opinion.  Leeks taste like a slightly milder, sweeter and mellower typical onion.  The flavor is quite gentle, particularly when cooked, which is how most leeks are prepared. 

 

How Do I Know What Leeks to Buy?

How Do I Know What Leeks to Buy?

Choose leeks that are no more than 1 1/2-inches in diameter if possible. Larger leeks can be more fibrous, with a woody core in the middle (which can be cut out), and some outer layers that aren’t as firm and fresh, and therefore need to be tossed. Choose firm leeks with nice taut layers, and at least 3-inches of pure white base if possible.

How to Cook Leeks: Do you have questions about how to buy, store, cut, prepare, and cook leeks? We've got lots of answers!

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 How do You Clean Leeks?

How Do You Prepare Leeks for Cooking?

Leeks push their way out of the ground, and so can trap quite a bit of dirt between the layers. To clean leeks, trim off the root end, then trim off the dark green tops. Sometimes in the middle of the leek you can find some inner light green layers buried within dark green outer layers, and it’s worth cutting off the dark green leaves in the middle to get the light green core.  See the photo below to see how to cut the dark green tops of the leeks off so that you can get to the light green inside.

 

cutting leeks

To clean leeks, wash the cut or trimmed leeks extremely well under cold water just before using. If you are slicing or chopping them for a recipe, you can do that before rinsing them to making it easier to remove the dirt.

How to Cook Leeks

 

Which Parts of the Leeks Can I Use? 

You want to use only the more tender light green and white parts for cooking and eating.  If any of the outer layers of the leaf are soft or loose you might want to save them along with the dark greens for vegetable stock; more on that below).

 

How to Cut Leeks

Again just use the white and light green parts.  You can slice them crosswise into disks, which will separate as you cook them.

How to Cook Leeks

or slice the leeks lengthwise and then slice them (as below).  

how to cut leeks

You can also chop them.  One easy way to do that is to slice the leeks lengthwise into strips and then cut them crosswise.

How to Cook Leeks

 

How Can You Use the Leek Greens?

The dark green tops are very fibrous and tough, and can be cleaned well and used to flavor stocks, added to the water when you are simmering other vegetables (such as potatoes), or shellfish. You can also line a bamboo steamer with them for a little extra flavor for your dumplings and buns. Also, if you keep them in their cylindrical shape you can line them up in a roasting pan, creating a makeshift rack of sorts, and roast a chicken or piece of meat on them.

How to Cook Leeks

 

How Do You Cook Leeks?

There are lots of ways to use leeks, in the same way there are lots of ways to use onions.  Leeks can be eaten raw, though this is a more unusual presentation. They are best very thinly sliced when uncooked. Leeks are definitely more intense when uncooked, as are all members of the onion family.

They are usually used much like onions and the like – cooked as a supporting aromatic in all kinds of recipes, from pan sauces to braises to roasted vegetable dishes to pan sauces to toppings. Leeks can be sautéed, roasted, steamed, stir-fried and just plain fried (sometimes fancy restaurants top dishes with thinly slivered and quickly fried crispy leeks).  But they can also be cooked and featured as a vegetable in their own right (which is more common in European cooking); roasted leeks and braised leeks are terrific.  Sautéed leeks are like sautéed onions—an amazing building block or base for all kinds of dishes.

 

Substituting Leeks for Onions

You can substitute leeks for onions in pretty much any recipe, again using only the white and very light green parts of the leek.  Leeks are a bit milder than some onions, but not much, so you can pretty much substitute leeks for onions on a one to one basis (e.g., 1 cup chopped leeks for 1 cup chopped onions), or if you think your leeks are particularly milk, go for 1 1/2 cups leeks for every cup of onions called for in a recipe.

Leek, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quiche

Leek, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quiche with sautéed leeks above

 

When Are Leeks in Season?

They are available in the fall and the spring, with the spring leeks being smaller and more mildly flavored.

Orange Salmon with Leeks and Mushrooms / Katie Workman / themom100.com / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen

Above: Orange Salmon with Leeks and Mushrooms

 

How Do I Store Leeks? And How Long Will Leeks Keep?

For leeks to last as long as possible, don’t trim or wash them until you are ready to use them (the roots and dark green leaves help them last longer, up to 2 weeks).  Or if you do want to cut your leeks for a recipe, do it only a couple of days ahead of time.  Leeks will last in the refrigerator for at about two weeks, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag.

 

Leek Recipes:

You may also like How to Make Crispy Shallots.

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